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Working Remotely is More Than Pajama Bottoms and Dress Shirts!

August 11, 2020

By Chad Paalman

It seems like an eternity, although it really was only a couple of months ago, that the phrases, “I work from home” or “I will be working from home,” would be met by many with a cynical smirk. You could actually see the judgement in the recipient’s eyes as if they were thinking to themselves, “Sure you are!” while they were likely imagining you at home, sitting on the couch, feet propped up, watching TV, wearing a dress shirt and pajama bottoms.

For some, working from home—or as I prefer to say “work from anywhere”— is not a new concept. Prior to the stay at home order, a spare room in the house or the local Biggby was an “office” for several professionals. I own and operate a 15-year-old, managed IT support company with three brick and mortar offices across Michigan. One-third of our staff has worked from home for several years.

Being in the IT business has undoubtedly contributed to us being an early adopter of working from anywhere, and we’ve had the luxury to build a plan, test our plan and make adjustments over the years. The success of a remote workforce is not just dependent on technology—there are many other factors to consider including IT security, privacy, adequate workspace, etc.

Importance of Planning

Of course, not every job can be performed remotely. For those that can, having simple, secure and reliable technology is paramount to the success of a remote workforce.

COVID-19 forever changed the way the world sees “working from home.” For many businesses to continue operating, working from home went from being a luxury to a necessity. In Michigan, when the stay at home order went into effect, there was an ensuing fire drill for IT professionals to help get the employees of organizations who remained open, set up to work from home. I was struck by how many businesses lacked remote working plans and the technology to support them.

Without a plan in place to support remote workers, for many organizations it became necessary to ask their employees to use their personal devices. This is not a recommended long-term solution. Issues include:

  • Separating personal data from business data
  • Family and/or kids sharing devices that are also used for business
  • Lack of business security services on personal devices

Organizations have also run into issues with their phones. Many still depend on legacy telephone systems that do not support offsite voice extensions. Having to use cell phones was adequate at first. However, organizations quickly realized the limitations of not having a modern cloud-based voice system. Issues include:

Inability to transfer calls that are call forwarded from the legacy business phone system to users cell phones

Use of personal cell phones results in users having to give out their personal phone numbers or this information being captured in caller ID when personal cell phones are used for business calls: 

  • Business calls ending up in personal cell phone voicemail
  • Major capacity issues for cellular providers (e.g., Verizon, Sprint)

If this pandemic had happened three years ago, there would have been a much different outcome. Fortunately, today there are several Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) options available from Microsoft, Cisco, Ring Central, etc. For those who are not familiar with UCaaS, Gartner, a research and advisory leader, defines UCaaS as “a cloud-delivered unified communications model that supports six communications functions:

  • Enterprise telephony
  • Meetings (audio/video/web conferencing)
  • Unified messaging
  • Instant messaging and presence (personal and team)
  • Mobility
  • Communications-enabled business processes”

Remote Work Force Recommendations

Take the time to work with your IT department or your IT provider to put a well thought out plan in place for your remote worker(s). A proper plan should address the following items:

Communication and Tools to Work

  • Reliable and adequate Internet
  • Cloud storage and document collaboration (Microsoft 365, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box.com)
  • Voice (Microsoft 365, Cisco, Vonage, Ring Central)
  • Video (Microsoft 365, Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting)
  • Chat (Microsoft 365, Slack, Google Hangouts)
  • Remote access to your business apps

Loss / Exfiltration of Data

  • End user devices properly configured:
  • Access to line of business applications
  • End point security
  • All updates and patches performed to achieve security best practices
  • Multifactor authentication (MFA)
  • Disk Encryption
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM)

Backups—most people do not realize that many popular cloud services still need to be backed up. There is a popular assumption that when organizations move their services from on-premise servers to the cloud that the cloud service provider backs up their data.

Remote Workforce Security Should Not be an Afterthought!

Supporting remote workers in their homes opens a myriad of issues, including competing with Fortnite! Recently, we helped a remote worker whose spouse was also relocated to work at home, along with their two high school children who were attending school via Zoom.

The couple was struggling with performance of their business and video conferencing applications. Upon inspection we realized they had 31 active devices running on their home network. This probably seems like a lot, however if you review the following list, you might realize your own home network is similarly bogged down by a bunch of devices and applications needing to talk to the Internet:

(4) computers (husband, wife and two children)

Two adults using Micrsoft Teams (Video & Voice)

Two kids attending school over Zoom

(2) iPads

(4) Smart phones

(3) Smart watches

(3) Smart TVs

(2) Apple TVs

(2) Amazon Echoes

(1) Peloton bike

(2) Roombas

(1) Smart garage door

(2) Smart door locks

(1) PlayStation

(1) Xbox

(1) Ring doorbell

(1) Ring floodlight

(1) Nest thermostat

It is important to identify all the devices in your home that need Internet access. Ideally you want to separate your kids’ gaming from your business network traffic. Unfortunately, most home network equipment does not provide the ability to segment and prioritize devices and traffic on the network. For workers who will be set up long-term to work from home, you may want to consider having business grade network equipment installed to support network segmentation, traffic prioritization and more robust security.

For those organizations adhering to HIPAA or other regulations and/or whose users are handling confidential or sensitive data (PHI, CUI, etc.), you will want to work closely with your IT professional to make sure security best practices are in place. Some organizations are finding that they have to install entirely separate Internet connections at their users’ homes for performance and/or to meet their organization’s security requirements.

Virtual Private Network—a Thing of the Past?

Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology has been around for decades. There is a ‘love/hate’ relationship with VPNs and IT professionals due to factors such as licensing, bandwidth constraints and security. Currently many of us in the IT profession are discussing the necessity of VPN technology going forward and if it will even be needed. With so many services (email, file storage, line of business applications, etc.) moving to the cloud, VPNs may soon be a thing of the past.

Some companies are choosing to skip traditional VPNs altogether and are leveraging Desktop as a Service (DaaS) from providers such as Amazon’s WorkSpaces and Microsoft’s recently released Windows Virtual Desktop. DaaS is a cloud computing offering that enables businesses to deliver cloud-hosted virtual desktops to any device, from anywhere. According to Citrix, a software developer, “DaaS solutions provide complete hosted desktops for applications and email securely delivered over the web.”

What Does the Future of Remote Work Look Like?

In his article on Medium.com, Paul Millerd gives a nice summary of Matt Mullenweg’s (CEO, Automattic) Five Levels Of Remote Work:

More and more business leaders are starting to accept the idea that some of their employees may never go back to the office. Some of the preliminary IT industry research is suggesting upwards of 25 percent of employees that could go back to an office will remain offsite indefinitely. This will force organizational leaders who haven’t already put plans in place to start building remote worker plans for the future.

Many of the organizations without remote worker plans in place are the same organizations that resisted the idea of allowing employees to work from home prior to COVID-19. For some organizations the reasons they did not have a plan and/or did not allow remote work is because they have an old mentality about who is or is not productive.

Employees are measured by whether they were physically in the office from 8 am to 5 pm instead of the work produced. In Sam Harris’s podcast #194, “The New Future of Work—A Conversation with Matt Mullenweg,” Mullenweg comments on how traditionally if someone shows up to an office dressed nicely, we assume they are a hard worker. Employees who work from home must produce something to be seen as a hard worker!

Summary 

Looking out at the horizon, it is a safe bet to assume the tools we use for work, and where we do our work, will be much different than the way we worked only a few months ago.


Chad Paalman is the Co-Founder & CEO of NuWave Technology Partners. Chad presently serves on Cisco System’s Small & Midmarket Advisory Board, Cisco System’s Managed Service Provider (MSP) Advisory Board and the Sparrow Hospital Foundation Board. Chad is the immediate past chair of SBAM’s board of directors. Find out more about NuWave Technology Partners at nuwavepartners.com.

*Originally featured in Focus Magazine

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